COVID-19 updates spread hope for a better semester

Savannah Sima

Senior News Writer

 

On April 20, The College of Wooster announced that an on-campus clinic will be available for students, and this time, the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine will be administered. This comes just one week after the nation-wide pause on the Johnson & Johnson vaccine that was originally going to be offered at Wooster from April 12 to April 16. Dean of Students Myrna Hernández stated in her email on April 20 that “thanks to the staff from the Wooster Community Hospital we have been able to get a limited portion of their weekly vaccine supply and they will be administering the first dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine from the Scot Center testing site on Thursday, April 22 from 9 a.m. to noon.” Hernández continued, “summer students will be given priority and then the remaining appointments will be open to any students, faculty or staff within driving distance who can be here for the second dose on May 13 at the same time.” This clinic will have the same procedures as the Johnson & Johnson clinic that was supposed to take place.

President Sarah Bolton had also announced that the College shifted from a “green” operational COVID-19 level to “yellow” due to an increase in positive tests that put the campus at a 0.80 percent positivity rate. Bolton wrote, “We are doing so because of a modest increase in student cases, and because several cases came to our attention when students had symptoms, rather than through our weekly screening testing. This week, we have 854 test results back so far, with six students testing positive and one employee testing positive.” This momentary change in levels was amended on April 20, where Bolton reported via email that no additional positive tests came back from testing, “Our campus testing from April 11 to April 17 showed no positive COVID-19 test results among 1325 tests. We also have no students in isolation or quarantine at this time. The determination and relentless hard work of many people across campus are responsible for our good position as we draw close to the end of the term. Thank you for all you are making possible! The campus will return to ‘green’ operational status as of today.”

The original shift from a green level to a yellow level means that “students are permitted to go off campus — only for socially-distanced outdoor recreation and for necessities such as food, work, medical needs and official college activities such as course-related activities and athletics.” This is “very similar to those we have had in place over the last month at ‘green,’” according to Bolton. Hernández detailed this shift as well, writing, “Operationally, the phases are similar. The decisions made by the College are largely based on the spread and prevalence on campus. The biggest differences for students are movement throughout the community (freely, when in ‘green;’ more cautiously and for necessities in ‘yellow’) and our level of flexibility in approving overnight requests.” 

Bolton added a few reminders about safe practices at any level, explaining, “All members of the campus community should be extra careful to maintain masking and a distance of six feet, and to follow limits on the numbers of people permitted in residential and other spaces. Our testing program is critical to maintaining a safe and healthy campus. It’s particularly important now that everyone tests regularly, as scheduled. Use the daily symptom checker to assess your wellness daily. Students should report any symptoms to Longbrake Wellness Center right away.”

The patterns in positive cases among students and staff mirrors the community public health climate. Bolton added, “We are also aware that Wayne County and the State of Ohio are seeing increasing case numbers, some of which are associated with more transmissible variants, and so we want to act cautiously to preserve campus safety and ensure our ability to have campus activities continue.”

Bolton also noted that this level would be reevaluated on April 14 when more testing data returns, and urged students to get vaccinated via the campus clinic.This clinic was offering the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, but was canceled due to Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines, “Unfortunately, our campus vaccination clinics, which were set to start [on April 12] with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, were cancelled this week due to the FDA and CDC pausing use of that vaccine for review of possible, extremely rare, side effects.” 

“We are working closely with Wooster Community Hospital and do expect to be able to provide a vaccine clinic on campus soon — either with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine if it is cleared again for use, or with Moderna or Pfizer vaccines,” stated Bolton. As mentioned earlier, the Pfizer vaccine will be an option for the College community on April 22. Bolton continued, explaining, “For students leaving campus at the end of the term, there won’t be time to start and complete the two-shot series required for Moderna or Pfizer vaccine while on campus. However, students living on campus this summer are required to be vaccinated, and will have time to complete the sequence, and we also want to make an on-campus clinic available for employees. We will update you as soon as we have additional information on campus vaccine availability. Vaccine appointments are also widely available in the local community.”

Ray Tucker, director of the Wellness Center, also detailed further why the Johnson & Johnson vaccine clinic was cancelled. “As reported by news outlets, the day before the vaccine clinic, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine had a risk for blood clots,” he said. “So the state sponsored vaccination opportunity was cancelled statewide. Next semester, we will continue wearing masks, continue observing distancing, gather responsibly and testing to catch and curtail the spread of COVID-19. The College will disseminate any new community standards as they develop. How the college will actually look when we are all back on campus together. We all have to wait and see.” 

Hernández added institutional context to the cancellation of the vaccine clinic, stating, “We always follow the guidance of public health agencies. On Tuesday morning, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and FDA both made the strong recommendation that everyone temporarily stop giving the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, so that they could look into possible very rare, but very serious, side effects. When the pause was recommended, use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine stopped nationwide. We also consulted with the Wooster Community Hospital, who advised that this was the most prudent action until we knew more about when the Johnson & Johnson vaccine would resume and would allow students who had the means to get appointments in the community which were available both at the hospital and through the Health Department. We are going to be able to sponsor a clinic, using the Pfizer vaccine, for summer students and those that can get back to campus easily for a second dose in mid-May.”

Members of the College community have urged students to get the vaccine. Ivonne García, chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer, details her experience getting vaccinated, stating, “I got my second dose of the Pfizer vaccine on a Wednesday around noon, and by that evening was doing perfectly fine. At 3:30 a.m. that Thursday morning, though, I woke up with a 101-degree fever, chills and body aches. Even my nose hurt! The fever and chills lasted into the weekend and the fatigue/tiredness lasted into the following week. Regardless, I wouldn’t hesitate to get another shot or a booster because whatever inconvenience the vaccine caused it’s not even close to the damage that the COVID-19 virus has been shown to cause, even in those who survive it. As someone with underlying conditions, I have been worried about contracting the virus for more than a year. Now I can at least have a little less anxiety even as I continue to protect myself and others for as long as necessary. I definitely encourage those who are able to get vaccinated to do so!” 

Bijeta Lamichhane ’22 detailed what it was like to get the second round of the vaccine as well. “I got my second dose on April 17, and I did not experience side effects right away,” Lamichhane said. “I was fine when I went to bed, but then I woke up in the middle of the night and couldn’t go back to sleep because I had chills. The day after the vaccination wasn’t great. I had a fever and a headache all day. I was anticipating all of this, though, so I wasn’t too worried. I’m feeling alright now, and the relief of being vaccinated far outweighs the short-term reactions.”

Looking forward to next semester, Hernández concluded, “We will follow the best public health guidance available to us at the time. Given that we have been very safely holding activities this semester with the tools we have, even before the vaccine, and that safe and effective vaccines are now plentifully available to everyone this summer, we are confident that we will operate fully in-person with all activities this fall. We are planning to be sure that our campus is very broadly vaccinated, well beyond the levels that are required for “herd” immunity, and we are pleased that so many students, staff and faculty are vaccinated already. Things like whether we still need to wear masks and keep distance will depend on what’s recommended by public health experts.”